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Other Voices: Get the ball rolling to expand medical marijuana in Texas

By Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Dec. 4, 2017 at 11:52 p.m.

Within weeks an estimated 150,000 Texas patients suffering from untreatable epilepsy will have a new means of relief.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, a form of medical marijuana, will finally be delivered to patients who qualify under the state's very strict guidelines. The CBD reduces or halts convulsive epileptic seizures but doesn't get the patients stoned.

Right now, the treatment will be available only for certain epilepsy patients, and it's highly controlled.

We believe availability should be expanded for treatment of other conditions when there's evidence those patients can be helped. We urge state lawmakers to begin to work through the political and medical hurdles now so they can make that happen when they meet in 13 months.

There are several state legislators already gearing up for the debate, and state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, will be a leading voice.

She co-authored the 2015 legislation known as the Compassionate Use Act, which is making CBD available. Klick told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board it was initially "hard to sell this idea" to some Republican leaders including the governor and lieutenant governor. Skeptics worried medical marijuana could be abused.

She said research provided evidence that CBD would benefit patients with epilepsy. She didn't support an unsuccessful bill last year for treating other conditions, citing "inadequate research."

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, authored that 2017 bill, which would have made medical marijuana available in Texas to treat about 20 "debilitating medical conditions" including cancer, traumatic brain injury, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder. Menendez was especially vocal about expanding use for veterans with PTSD.

"Would we rather have them doped up on opioids?" Menendez asked the editorial board. "We have an opioid crisis in this country."

He said research can be skewed to benefit pharmaceutical companies and others who may not support greater availability of medical marijuana. He wants physicians to decide which patients receive the treatment.

On one thing, however, Klick and Menendez agree: There needs to be more state-sanctioned research into the effectiveness of medical marijuana. The federal government won't support that research because it still considers marijuana illegal, even though 29 states have approved its use in some form.

Klick said she's already working on a bill.

"Texas is well-positioned with Tier One universities. They can do the research into cannabis," she said. Klick believes private funding, not state tax dollars, will pay for the work.

While Menendez said much of the necessary evidence for expanding medical marijuana use is already available, he learned last session how difficult convincing lawmakers will be. He said Klick's idea for doing some homegrown research sounds like a good idea to get the ball rolling.

We urge Klick, Menendez and other like-minded lawmakers to put their heads together soon and identify common goals. The groundwork for getting this done must be laid before lawmakers convene in 2019.

This shouldn't be a partisan issue. There are ailing people in Texas who need relief.

Let's help them get it.



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